It was a night Natalia Corales had anticipated since the moment she was accepted into the Physician Assistant Direct Program at Mississippi College.
Reciting the Physician Assistant Oath. Receiving a Blessing of the Hands. Introducing an acclaimed graduate of MC’s PA Program. Hearing words of wisdom from venerable PA faculty.
And donning a sparkling new white coat, the emblem of professionalism, integrity, and the highest commitment to caring for the sick and injured.
“It’s a rite of passage being welcomed into the medical profession,” Corales said of the MC Department of Physician Assistant Studies’ 12th White Coat Ceremony Sept. 1 in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. “It’s important because it symbolizes the commitment we make to always care for our patients.
“The white coat is a universal symbol. When patients see it, they automatically have more confidence in us as practitioners. Wearing a white coat invites certain expectations and responsibilities instilled in us as PAs.”
Dr. Steve Martin, department chair and program director of the Physician Assistant Studies Program, told the assembly that the ceremony represents the “students’ entry into a new and special realm.”
“The white coat is a symbol of belonging to a profession of passion, commitment, and privilege – the privilege to care for the health and well-being of our community, the privilege of healing. It is an extraordinary opportunity, and a tremendous responsibility.
“Accepting the white coat means you also accept this responsibility – this charge – to respect and protect the dignity and autonomy of your patients, both in good health and in ill health, and to do your very best for them at every moment.”
The 32 members of MC’s PA Class of 2024 started their training this past May. Having completed the first semester of the preclinical phase of the program, they became eligible to receive the coats.
“For our students to get to this point – the point where they have earned the right to join the ranks of many PA students before them to wear the white coats – has taken a tremendous amount of sacrifice,” Martin said. “This class has just completed perhaps the most difficult semester of PA school.
“In this semester, they’ve had intensive study in anatomy and physiology, learned how to conduct a proper history from a patient, and how to present their findings to other members of the medical team. And they’ve begun the very rigorous pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutic, fundamentals of medical science, professional development, and behavioral and community medicine series.”
Martin told the class members that receiving their white coats isn’t a sign that their training will get easier.
“As they continue the preclinical phase of their training, they will begin the very heart of medicine, the clinical medicine series,” he said. “It is here they will learn and understand who each disease affects, how it presents, how to make the diagnosis, and how to begin treatment.
“They’ll build on their foundation each semester for the next year until they enter the clinical phase of their PA studies. Then, these students will have direct and intense interaction with real patients and learn to make actual decisions that can potentially make a difference in their patients’ lives.”
The opportunity to make a difference in others’ lives is what drew Corales to the health care profession. A native of Olive Branch and a resident of Clinton, she majored in biology and minored in art at MC. During her sophomore year, she applied to PA Direct, MC’s early admission pipeline program for undergraduates, and was accepted during her junior year.
The PA Direct Program identifies, recruits, and develops a small number of highly motivated undergraduate students at Mississippi College who plan to matriculate into the PA Studies program. The PA Studies Program works with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, federal clinics, hospitals, and other facilities to share educational resources, clinical rotations, and clerkship sites.
“As an undergraduate at MC, I really enjoyed developing relationships with my professors,” Corales said. “They knew me personally and they really care for their students. That was something I was looking for when I was considering PA school.
“As I talked to students in MC’s PA Program, they were able to attest to the personal relationships they were able to form with their professors. They felt like they could easily walk into any of their professors’ offices and ask questions. PA is such a rigorous program, being able to go directly to your professors if you have any questions was important to me.”
Corales has thrived since joining the program: she was chosen to serve as president of the Class of 2024. The honor afforded her the opportunity to introduce the PA White Coat Ceremony’s guest speaker, Courtney C. Wright.
Wright obtained her Master of Medical Science from MC and her Master of Science in Medicine from the MC Physician Assistant Studies Program. She serves as a PA for Dr. Lee M. Nicols at Central Surgical Associates in Jackson. An Alumna of the Year and Preceptor of the Year Award recipient from MC’s PA Program, Wright is a Pi Alpha National Honor Society inductee.
“Having an MC PA alumna who serves as a preceptor for PA students speak to us at the White Coat Ceremony was inspirational,” Corales said. “It was great to hear from someone who has been through the program and is now out practicing medicine.”
Kenneth Butler, associate professor and director of admissions for PA Studies, presented the white coats to the class members, who were organized into six groups according to the faculty “coach” they had been assigned to in the PA Program: Megan Colvin, Rachelle Dye, Justin Goebel, Katryna Horton, Stephanie Stanford Keith, and Daniel J. Watkins. Goebel then led the students in reciting the Physician Assistant Oath.
Dr. Evan Lenow, director of church and minister relations, closed the ceremony by performing the Blessing of the Hands and giving the Benediction.
Corales, who accepted her coat as a member of “Team Dye,” said the evening provided the perfect springboard to the remaining preclinical phase of PA training.
“It’s been a tough semester, we’ve been working hard, so I was excited for my family to be at the ceremony and to see me get my white coat,” she said. “It’s a very rewarding aspect of the program that we will wear these coats on our clinical rotations and when we see patients.
“Knowing we are that much closer to practicing medicine is very exciting.”